Hello Weather

Or how to survive small talk in Texas

How to Survive Small Talk

Start small by converting average temperatures
from Celsius to Fahrenheit and back-
multiply by nine, divide by five, and add thirty-two.
Then, begin to include the heat index, the real feel temperature
that takes into account how effectively your sweat is cooling your body.
Say things like, “But it really feels like.”

When you’re ready, move on to terminology.
You can start with simple words like storm,
advisory, breeze, humidity, muggy.
Then, refresh your vocabulary with visibility,
barometric pressure, tidal wave, Gulf stream.
Familiarize yourself with the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale.
Know the difference between El Niño and La Niña,
in the event that it’s in the news again.

Now you’re ready to memorize a few common phrases.
When in doubt, begin by saying, “we could really use some rain,”
sometimes substituting the pronoun for other nouns
such as- but not limited to- farmers, cattle, crops and reservoirs.
Assuming the season is summer, be prepared to say it is hotter than hell
or that you can’t wait till it cools off again.
If rain is in the forecast, adapt by arguing that it still won’t be enough.

For optimal small talk, do your research.
Arm yourself with the current lake and water supply levels.
Pay attention to the growing season: discuss cotton production
or how you can’t believe the size of the watermelons this year.
If you feel the conversation slowing, don’t hesitate to ask someone
where they were during the Jarrell Tornado or Hurricane Ike
Somehow, people always remember how much damage can come from the wind.

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Hello Cacti

Or everything I know about succulents in poem form.


1. My husband collects cactus plants. Or rather, I buy him cactus plants to collect. He brought one home several years ago, planted it outside our house, tended to the succulent with pride, bent over to point out new growths when I passed by. Look at this he would say with teeth showing. When we moved, too impractical to take, the cactus was left behind for the next tenants. I wonder if he still thinks about it.

2. On vacation, hours are spent at the Desert Botanical Gardens. Over ten thousand cacti to point at, compare, and pose next to. I learn that Saguaro is pronounced “sah-wah-ro” and almost rhymes with sorrow. Fully-grown, it can hold nearly seven hundred liters of water. I try to fathom this much water. I’ve heard the average human body is sixty-percent water. If so, I hold fifty-one liters of water. We return to our small apartment with a magnet and postcard.

3. So I buy him more cactus plants the way you do when you learn someone’s likes. Three different kinds sit on the windowsill beside me while I work. There used to be four, but one has died. I once believed that cacti were incapable of death- able to persevere in the desert despite insufferable summer days and unbearable winter nights. Yet, our temperate apartment is somehow not the correct conditions for growth.

4. He lists off the three remaining types of cacti: Opuntia microdasys or the polka-dot cactus; Mammillaria elongata or the ladyfinger cactus; and Ferocactus cylindraceus or the barrel cactus. Each is appropriately named.

5. After watering the plants one day, I ponder aloud which of them would hurt the most. We each pick one up, examine the texture of its spines, then swap pots and observations. We finally agree that the barrel cactus -with its thick fishhooks- would do the most damage. I cannot help myself, so I raise my finger to touch them. After light pressure to each though, I determine that our guess is incorrect.

6. I tell him about the times I got prickly-pear spines stuck in my hands or in my feet, about how it stung when my mother pulled them out with tweezers or worse- how it burned when they were too short to pull out. She’d hand me an ice cube and say, you’re just going to have to let it work itself out. This seems to be the answer to most problems.

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Hello Snow

Or what I wrote about instead of skiing on holiday.

The Winter of Terror
(For Austria, 1951)

It was quiet here once-
Earth shiftless,
Alps graceful in their
stance, enveloped in
gossamer fabric.
The surrounding air
inhaled easy through
nose out chapped lips-
till mountains heaved edges
turned to curves, descended
into a billow
swollen, suffocating.

How curious it is
that something so
beautiful could be
so heavy.

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Hello Liver


Or what happens when the liver stops working

I wasn’t there when it happened.

When his detoxing liver finally collapsed
onto his stomach, flopped over his gallbladder.
His intestines had long given way, tied in knots
only a properly trained boy scout could attempt
to undo.

When his lungs finally slowed to a halt, deflated
onto his diaphragm, left room between the ribcage.
His left went first, then the right, he always held his
cigarettes in the left, should have switched hands
every once in a while.

When his knees and shins finally crashed
into his calves, bones bashed on unswept hardwood floor.
His hamstrings had already stopped him from running away,
couldn’t support the habit or the weight of his constant
I’m sorry’s.

When his brain finally discharged his soul
into his cortex out his eyes, ears, it waivered slightly
His head abandoned by the previous owner, left a messy
mind behind but his facial expression turned tender of someone
thirty years younger

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Hello Neighbors

Or what I think about when I take the elevator with my neighbors

I am forced or coerced to take the elevator with my neighbors whom I have never met. We live next door to each other and sometimes I hear them cooking, our kitchens touch stove to stove. But I have never seen them. I wonder if they have ever seen me. Do they hear me cooking too? This man, he waves me into the elevator. He carries or cradles a Bible. It is Sunday. God’s day. Hangover day. I choose the corner of this small three person elevator. I smell his cologne. His wife joins us and the doors shut. I smell her hair spray. They are ready. Ready for what?

What do we mean when we say ready? I am ready or I am the best version of myself for this occasion. This is how I imagine myself or how I should be at this moment. My actions are appropriate for this moment. I am ready or prepared for what is to come. I am ready and these people are ready, but I am ready for the grocery store, ready to buy tortillas and potatoes. They are ready to listen with ears half open, ready for God.

His suit is freshly washed without stain and her scarf draped softly over shoulders. They are clean and I wonder if my unwashed curls are forming an A on my dirty jacket- embroidered there. Can he read the smudged black lines under my eyes? Can he smell Atheism on my unbrushed breath? Or does he just smell the gin salt on my skin? Perhaps he smells nothing, sees nothing.

We get out of the elevator and he smiles at me. I tell them to have a nice day and she responds, “you too dear.” We part ways. They are ready and I am still ready.

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Hello Microscopes

Or why my left eye is strong than the right, or more dissertation excepts.


When I was little, I used to believe that I could see air.
Tiny specks of sometimes blue and other times green
but mostly clear in front of my eyes.
I never told anyone till now-wanted to keep the secret, to be special
I squinted to see life, to see O2  mix with CO2
right before my eyes, something amazing.

I believed I could see air.
One of these days, I said,they will see what I can do.
But as years went on, I could see them less and less.
Slipped away from my vision,
my aging eyes lack precision or perhaps I just forgot to look for it anymore.

Now when I squint some twenty-years later,
I call them… sun spots.
From not listening to my mother-
I can’t help but stare at the sun from time to time.
The little blue and sometimes green
but mostly clear circles dot my retina and transmit into my skull.
My optic nerve used to lie to me all the time.
Yes, that swimming pool is an ocean
and that old broken bottle a potion
and yes, those dots are oxygen.
But now it translates… sunspots.
My optic nerve rarely ever lies to me anymore
or maybe I never ask it to.

I used to believe I could see air.
Not just a single molecule, no-
but the particles within it too.
Like that squiggly bit, a ribosome
that circle bit, a nucleus-words I’d only ever seen on charts and graphs
but I was convinced all the same that someday
I would be able to clearly see someone’s DNA.
Each nucleic acid twisted together-their genetic information.
Be able to tell the color of their eyes before looking at their face
A scientific mystery with eyes like a microscope
and when I looked at a boy, I’d be able to read his double helix
and prevent heartbreak before we even said hello.
Not that I’d have time for boys when I can see air.
No-that’s just the beginning.

I’ll spend my time at NASA
and my dad will be so proud when they send me to the moon
to stare at Mars with my special eyes.
She’ll know the answer they’ll say
and they’ll cheer when I land because I’m the girl that can see molecules.

But they’ve already sent Curiosity to Mars- have extra-terrestrial terrain cars.
And me-I’m a writer with a left eye that’s slightly stronger than then right
but not strong enough to see nuclei at night.
Maybe it’s because I don’t practice anymore.

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Hello Cake

Or how my love of cake got weird in poetry, or a sneak peek at my dissertation.

Perky Pineapple Upside-down Cake (or other inappropriate cake title)

She got hair like cinnamon like spice cake sometimes like carrot cake
Her face like white wedding cake with clear vanilla extract
Her eyes bright like professional strength concentrated green gel
coloring, Enough green to last a lifetime if well kept
Her lashes like dark chocolate ribbons in centimeter curls
With freckles like milk chocolate sprinkles except for the one on
Her right temple- that’s more like a chocolate jimmie
Her dimples, her cheeks like light strawberry cake like the box kind
The best kind, the perfect shade of pink when she blushes
Topped with gold dust, her cheekbones glisten
Her lips a deeper red velvet, her tongue glides across lighter
cream cheese teeth until smooth
Her neck like layer cake, tall- her shoulders a cake board base,
A place to rest your head if she’ll let you

Her breasts like perky pineapple upside-down cake, like cupcake liners
someone overfilled more than two-thirds of the way
Her hips thick like homemade whip cream, like the kind of buttercream
you can’t help but lick the mixing bowl clean
Her fingers delicate like angel food cake,
like sponge cake, like tiramisu ladyfingers
She makes you tingle like Pop Rocks icing
sizzling when your tongue touches, like magic
You savor her salty skin, like maple bacon cakes, like salted caramel icing
She can be experimental, exciting like chocolate chili cupcakes
with cayenne pepper and chipotle, She fiery like Red Hot cinnamon
She acts sophisticated like tea cakes, like petit fours,
Like tiny edible silver sugar pearls
But you love her most when she doesn’t try too hard or stray too far
Like plain yellow cake with chocolate frosting still delicious

She can be a little tart like lemon cake, like key limes
But you accept it in return for the times when she surprises you like
surprise cake- not the kind you find at bachelor parties, but like the
first bite of whiskey ganache inside a chocolate cupcake,
bitter bourbon balanced by sugary sweet
She isn’t always strong, sometimes she falls like deflated soufflé
She crumbles like cracked cakes stuck to the pan
But most of the time she’s sturdy like pound cake, like rock cakes
She can be hot or cold, the kind of girl whose mood changes with the
weather seasons like peppermint in the winter and pumpkin in the fall
But you fall for her soft rich body all the same because
She fun like funfetti cake, like rainbow cake she full of color
Except on dark chocolate days when no matter what you say,
you can’t get her to change back to vanilla-
The closest you got was marble cake once
And when you ask her to marry you,
You’ll hide the ring in the cake, you’ll sit patiently
You’ll wait as she forks through crumbles slowly savoring every morsel,
and you’ll have no idea what she will say.


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Hello Scavenger Hunt

Or how I found myself in London

I know what it feels like to have my own body exhumed.
Reborn, my life resumed, I found pieces of myself in the ground.

Underneath the bricks during the repaving on Brick Lane,
I discovered my left metatarsal and further down a partial of the right.
At Olympia during the Great British Beer Festival,
I found both my fibulas and tibias propping up real ale umbrellas.
When I was down at the Thames watching the Queen and Camilla,
I fished out my patella floating in the river near Chelsea Pier.
I barely managed to grab my femur before a Hackney street cleaner
Swept up Stoke Newington High Street after a dirty Saturday night.
In Old Spitalfields Market just browsing the vintage stalls,
I spotted my own innominate displayed prominently on the table.

I know what it feels like to have my own body exhumed.
I learned how to walk again.

While leaving Clissold Park Café, I tripped over my own vertebrae.
I followed the trail of my ribs scattered along the Bakerloo line,
Such a hassle, each station from Harrow & Wealdstone to Elephant & Castle.
Lucky it was a early on a Sunday cause on the way to Heathrow,
I noticed my sternum as the train stopped at Turnham Green.
It was in fact quite comical when I spotted my clavicle inside
The purple cow at the Udder Belly Festival in Southbank.

I know what it feels like to have my own body exhumed.
I learned how to breathe again.

I made a deal with Nelson down near Charring Cross to swap
For a reward- my humerus for his old battle sword.
A spontaneous visit to Greenwich paid off when I discovered
My radius shining radiantly in the mast of the Cutty Sark.
Hardest to find, my carpals and phalanges dispersed evenly
Along the Jubilee line from Stanmore to Stratford.

I know what it feels like to have my own body exhumed.
I learned how to grasp again.

In Shoreditch at the Rich Mix on Bethnal Green Road
I gained my mandible on stage at Jaw Dance.
My cranium was hiding under a rose geranium nestled
Near a bench in the middle of Regent’s Park.

I know what it feels like to have my own body exhumed.
I learned how to believe again.


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Hello Telegraphs

Or how communication changes. Or how I avoid my dissertation .

Transatlantic Telegraphs

From ten days to ten hours, telegraphs flow under the ocean
Context and consonants cross on copper lines through cables
While the moon pushes waves of water over hemp tied wires

From Valentia to my Heart’s Content, I send
Vowels and vows, letters and love, dots and dashes
I swim the one thousand eight hundred and fifty nautical miles

From ships to sent, messages flood the marine like magic
A triumph more glorious* we grow closer to each other
I learn to move my mouth to form circles and lines

From relayed to response, on the other side of the deep
You tap your fingers on electricity till the last letter is over
While the I wait, the world is getting smaller

*It is a triumph more glorious, because far more useful to mankind, than was ever won by conqueror on the field of battle. May the Atlantic telegraph, under the blessing of Heaven, prove to be a bond of perpetual peace and friendship between the kindred nations, and an instrument destined by Divine Providence to diffuse religion, civilization, liberty, and law throughout the world”- James Buchanan, August 16, 1858.


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Hello Rain

Or why stream of conscious is fun

In The Lonely Londoner’s by Samuel Selvon, there is a great stream of consciousness bit about summertime in London. This is my response to it. Click Summertime to hear the spoken version.


It’s June but you wouldn’t know it without a calendar to tell you the rain hasn’t let up spare for the week in May that I spent drunk in Green Park everyone keeps telling me that London summers are amazing but I’m still waiting for the rain to stop I think I’ll be waiting for centuries perhaps the sun only comes out when the queen wants it to but I will learn to breathe in water at least the trees are green in Hampstead and the bus stop is right outside my flat Lynmouth Road once Bryan and I got on the 149 to Shoreditch the windows were sweating too much water to see out the windows so I asked him to wipe his side clean so I could see the Gherkin in the distance down the high street but he told me that was people breath from too many people breathing in and out condensation gathers and runs down the windows peoples breath human oxygen converted to carbon dioxide I will learn to breathe in water but for now I wipe off the human condensation with my sweater since he won’t and watch Dalston out the window people enjoying their summers in umbrellas and rain boots they go to watch boats down at the Thames thousands of boats that already know how to gurgle and breathe underwater with ease they are jubilant these people walking the streets you can tell a true Londoner not by their accent or brand of rain boots but by looking for their gills I’m still waiting for mine to grow once I walked past James Smith & Son on New Oxford Street home of the London umbrella I couldn’t believe a shop only for umbrellas but now I understand it is never going to be summer and perhaps these people have been lying to me all along but I will learn to breathe in water to live in water to stop worrying and love the water I will get used to pulling up my sweater to wipe off people breath from bus windows once I watched a little girl draw a fish on the front window of the 205 she said he was at home in the rain and they got off at Regent’s Park to go to the zoo so young but she already knows about water her gills stronger than mine she doesn’t need an umbrella I raise my sleeve to erase the fish out of jealous but I will learn all the same until then I will learn not to buy cheap umbrellas from the Primark near Marble Arch or go there at all really too many people always breathing down your back and down your front and down your sides but they always double bag my stuff when its raining so I can’t complain even the checkout clerk swears the sun will come but I’m still waiting and I’ve forgotten how the sun looks like someone from high school that you can’t quite remember I’ve forgotten what the warmth of Texas feels like but I will learn to breathe in water yes I will learn.

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